Michael Wu is the chief scientist at Lithium. Lithium, as the company’s own website says, helps companies unlock the passion of their customers, providing a platform that customers can use to interact with these companies. Lithium is a social customer experience company with a collective 91 million users each month (more than Pinterest or LinkedIn), and it has helped companies like Sephora to build an social online experience and a tight-knit community of brand ambassadors on the Web. Lithium has also assisted companies like Verizon and Barclays do the same. In this interview, Michael discusses in detail what the platform does and how it helps companies gather insights on consumer behavior.
Sramana Mitra: Michael, what is your background? Tell us a bit about your company and what you do in big data.
Michael Wu: Lithium is a social customer experience platform. What that means is that we offer a platform for large brands to enable them to engage with their customers and also to enable customers to engage with each other. The technology is composed of two pieces. Once is the community piece, where it is purely about peer-to-peer engagement, and a lot of data is analyzed. The other piece is for agents within the company to engage with customers.
We are an SaaS vendor, and that is why we have access to all the data – not only from specific clients, but across all clients. I am the chief scientist at Lithium. My research has always been focused on consumer behavior, understanding how people behave on social media, and why they choose to do the things they do.
SM: How are you using big data in your work, and what trends are you aligning with?
MW: A lot of data is generated on our platform. We track every action users take on our platform – whether they look at something, whether they reply to another user, whether they share a message or upload a photo. That is the kind of data we track. We then analyze that data to predict the consumer. This gives brands a lot of power because they can understand their consumers.
SM: Let’s talk about some of your customers, and please explain what exactly you enable them to do.
MW: One of the biggest aspects of consumer behavior is that we actually influence them. That is typically done through a gamification platform. Most of my research is not specific to a customer. When you analyze data from only one customer, then everything you find is not generalizeable – the claim you make is applicable only to that customer. But because we are a SaaS vendor, we have access to all of our customers’ data. We have B2B customers and also B2C customers, and we have a different purpose within the community. Some of our clients use our platform to essentially cut costs, to support the peer-to-peer community, and others use it as a platform to drive marketing and sales as part of recommendations.
With that wide variety of customers, we can make claims about how people behave on social media rather than simply describe how a particular client’s customers behave. A typical application of this is we can use big data to drive a gamification platform to influence people’s behavior. We use this data to feed back to the consumer so that the brands can sway their customers’ behavior to whatever they believe is valuable to them. For example, some of our support community may feel that answering people’s questions is really valuable. They can drive answering questions that help people, which people like, and they give you kudos for it. This is the type of behavior we can drive through gamification.
Marketing clients may want something completely different from what the rest of the community want. They may say, “I don´t really care about answering questions, but I want people to not really care about answering questions, but I want people to consume and share content.” So, they may drive consumers to read more and to share more content. Through gamification, we can allow brands to feed this data back to the user to influence their behavior.